eSolar Snags $130M from Google, Idealab

eSolar, a startup building solar thermal power plants that was one of the first cleantech startups backed by Google, has pulled in $130 million, the company says this morning; the funding comes from Google.org, Bill Gross’ Idealab, Oak Investment Partners and other investors. The company also says it has “secured land rights” in the southwestern United States to produce over 1 GW of power and will have a power plant up and running later this year in southern California.

Pasadena, Calif.-based eSolar hopes to improve upon solar thermal by designing scalable power plants with smaller heliostats — the mirrors that track the sun’s rays and reflect the light to boil liquid to produce steam that powers a turbine. The company’s heliostats are smaller than many being built for the market and each plant’s thermal towers have an array of them. The design allows a solar power plant to be able to scale up to 500 MW from 25 MW. And the independent units ensure that the entire array doesn’t go down if one unit hiccups.

Google has invested in eSolar as part of its “RE<C” initiative, under which Google plans to produce a gigawatt of renewable energy for less than coal power. Google said back in November that it was working with eSolar, and in January, the search giant clarified that its original investment was $10 million.

We’re not sure how much Google and the other investors have each put into eSolar, but Google had been planning on putting hundreds of millions of dollars into energy investments.

It’s not surprising that Google and Idealab (which was founded by dotcom entrepreneur Bill Gross) are investing in a company that is looking to use computing and the technology of mass manufacturing to make solar scale at a lower cost. eSolar explains its strategy in the release this morning as replacing “expensive steel, concrete and brute force with inexpensive computing power and elegant algorithms.”

In the release, Gross echoed Google’s plan to make renewable energy cheaper than coal and added that the goal was to undercut coal’s cost “without subsidies.” Several solar thermal companies, including Ausra, Solar Reserve, BrightSource and Solel, have been racing to get massive solar power plants up and running in California’s Mohave Desert over the next couple of years.

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